When Biden became president-elect, millions of Americans felt a weight lifted from their shoulders. In cities across the country, people celebrated in the streets, filling the newscycle with a moment of shared optimism. At Kenyon, too, the feeling of excitement was palpable.
But for many young people, anxiety crept up just beneath the surface. The Trump presidency provided leftists, liberals and some Republicans with a common enemy. That enemy will be gone in January, but systemic issues like police brutality, climate injustice and the housing crisis will stay intact, inflamed by a disgruntled far right and the president’s pointed negligence. In light of the challenges we still face, Gen Z should uphold our commitment to justice, progress and one another by remaining politically active throughout the Biden presidency and beyond.
Much of the work Americans are responsible for continuing was a direct response to the murder of George Floyd on May 25. The summer of 2020 was defined by widespread action and collective consciousness, as the Black Lives Matter movement reached a tipping point. In the streets and on social media, Americans of all backgrounds began actively confronting systemic racism and challenging widespread police brutality. Anti-racism, instead of complacence, became the standard. Performative activism was present, to be sure. But the all-hands-on-deck response to the series of tragedies, including the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, was historic.
The sense of security created by a Biden presidency threatens to kill the momentum social movements have been accumulating through years of dedicated organizing and advocacy. It shouldn’t. When a country reaches a tipping point, there are two potential outcomes: The nation will quickly go very far backward, or very far forward. It’s absolutely essential that we choose to push forward. Continuing to organize in the streets and incorporate advocacy into our daily lives could make the difference between a more functional, equitable future, and one that’s hospitable to more overbeating, regressive politicians like Trump.
Part of the strategy for staying engaged in a post-Trump world includes us filling our government with new leaders by engaging in local politics. While some of Bernie Sanders’ young, left-leaning base lost faith in electoral politics after the senator dropped out of the 2020 race, many shifted their focus to other insurgent campaigns. The Georgia runoff elections, for example, have become a lightning rod for organizers and activist groups like the Sunrise Movement. Researching local politics, voting and making calls are practices that maximize any individual’s impact on their community and the country — we should not forget the importance of this work.
Community organizing encompasses more than just protests and political campaigns. Over the summer, mutual aid networks, community fridges and other support systems evolved out of the connections built between organizers. Abolition Park in New York City, for example, provided a safe space for anyone in need of a place to eat, sleep or charge their phone. On the ground, an unreliable government pushed people to think about how we can better take care of each other while fighting for change. This is another lesson we can and should hold onto in the years to come.
The excitement over Biden’s victory has blurred the boundary between the “Settle For Biden” camp and his most loyal supporters. The joy is a good thing, and well deserved, but it’s not in anyone’s best interest to abandon the struggle for a better country. Most of us cannot afford complacency, and those who can should stand in solidarity with their fellow Americans. This goes for everyone, but young people in particular need to remember to hold our new president accountable.
The good thing about a president who isn’t Donald Trump, even if he’s far from ideal, is that he has to engage with his constituents under pressure. Biden’s first term isn’t a solution to this country’s problems — it’s a massive opportunity to create our own solutions and make them a reality. The dreams and ideas of this summer, and of the 2019 climate strikes, and the 2018 gun control walkouts, and the 2017 Women’s March, can all be realized, but only if our generation puts in the work.